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Camp Goodtime – and the funkiest medical hut ever

Abigail Sinclair can’t wait for summer to arrive. That’s when the 11-year-old Halifax resident gets to go to Camp Goodtime, an internationally acclaimed and accredited summer recreation program for young people with cancer and their families. “It is,” says Abigail, “the highlight of my year.”

Her seven-day excursion to Scotian Glen in Thorburn, Nova Scotia, where the camp is located, includes polar bear dips in the pool two mornings a week, dressing up for every meal (there is always a theme!), competing at game night (including the Price is Right), and taking on the seniors in a fire pit shouting match. “It’s so much fun,” says Abigail.

Healthy fun, thanks to Camp Goodtime’s 24 hour onsite medical supervision. This year the work of the Medical Team – six oncology nurses from the IWK Health Centre who volunteer their time – was honoured with Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Excellence in Patient Care Award.

“The award was very humbling. We don’t expect any praise,” says Alanna Ferguson, the team’s Nurse Coordinator.

They certainly deserve it, says Lisa Bugden, Abigail’s Mom. “These nurses are incredibly caring people. We know our kids are in great hands.”

“Without the nurses,” notes Abigail’s father, Roger Sinclair, “we couldn’t do this.”

The nurses, who also have a direct link to medical specialists, if needed, play dual roles: helping kids who are on active treatment for cancer and attending to the cuts, bumps, and bruises that often go hand in hand with outdoor activities and camp shenanigans.

“The kids on active treatment come with their medication,” notes Alanna. “They may require blood work and assessments. We’ve even taken children into New Glasgow for treatment.”

The key is making the experience cool for campers. “We try to soften the medical image,” says Alanna. The fun starts when kids arrive at the medical hut and see the “Joke of the Day.” There’s also a tickle trunk of treasures and even a mascot. (The most recent was a stuffed chicken.)

“The nurses’ hut has a warm, happy feeling to it,” notes Abigail, who visited the team last year when she suffered minor heat stroke. “I threw up seven times!” she says proudly.

“The nurses told her that was a camp record,” says Lisa. “They can even make not feeling well fun.”

That fun extends to little ones who are simply homesick. They get special pills for their condition. (Some people suspect these pills are really Skittles, but the nurses are sworn to confidentiality.) They also get to take the mascot to their cabin for a night!

The medical team participates fully in camp life and does more than attend to the campers’ medical needs. From Monday to Saturday, they’re an integral part of the day-to-day life at camp, which is funded by the Nova Scotia Division of the Canadian Cancer Society. “We line up – and dress up – for dining hall. We take part in camp songs in the evening,” notes Alanna. “It’s nice for kids to see us in a different capacity.”

“Clearly the nursing staff is totally committed. They actually volunteer for this, which is amazing,” says Roger.

Their commitment to the spirit of the camp, he adds, helps to keep the focus on fun. “The kids don’t think this is a cancer camp. It’s just camp, and they have a riot.”

That’s why it’s the highlight of so many people’s year. “I’m going back!” says Abigail.

So is Alanna.


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